Advertising Lessons From Mad Men

“There’s only one angle – an orange that’s orange, on TV.”                                                                       -Don Draper, on Sunkist

Undoubtedly, Mad Men will be the talk of many offices this week – and rightly so. Despite some ups and downs, the series hasn’t lost a step in its penultimate season.  The plot twists, historical references and fascinating misbehavior of its characters are as compelling as ever.

Buried among the personal drama and pitch-perfect period depiction, however, there are some advertising lessons to be learned – like the beauty of simplicity.  Sterling, Cooper’s best campaigns (like those created for Volkswagen by its supposed real-life model, Doyle Dane Bernbach) are simple, direct and memorable.

While this may seem so fundamental that it doesn’t even bear mentioning, it does.  We constantly struggle with clients who want to shove multiple message points – or just too much information – into their ads.  Certainly this issue is nothing new, nor is it unique to Boelter + Lincoln. However, it is arguably a more significant problem than ever before, with study after study documenting how media diffusion, social media, mobile media and the 24/7 news cycle are shrinking our attention spans.

While our collective case of ADHD makes a marketer’s job harder, we can use it to our advantage.  This is particularly true in instances where “over-stuffed” ads are so common that they define the category.  The guiding mantra here is, less is more.

We experienced this first-hand with a recent campaign for Zoneworks, a manufacturer of industrial curtain walls.  By distilling the myriad product benefits down to a single, memorable headline (“Walls Where and When You Want Them”) and keeping the visual layout clean and uncluttered, we were able to make Zoneworks boldly stand apart from the cluttered, copy-heavy ads typical of trade pubs.  The results of this approach have spoken for themselves.  Website traffic was up 158% year over year during the campaign and unique visitors increased 180%. Most significantly, sales have roughly doubled in the past year.

So will the “less is more” approach work for Sterling, Cooper’s new Sunkist account?  While we won’t find out until next year, I’d put my money on it.